WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1122138399
From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: GELDRAY; Max Leon Van Gelder-2/10/2004
Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005 18:06:39 +0100
The Daily Telegraph & the telegraph.co.uk
Max Geldray, who has died in California aged 88, started out as a pioneer of
the jazz harmonica, but became best known as a member of The Goon Show with
Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers throughout the 1950s.
Along with the drummer Ray Ellington's quartet, he was responsible for one
of the programme's two musical interludes and then for bringing each show to
an end with a spirited rendition of Crazy Rhythm. But in such in an anarchic
setting, Geldray was much more than just a musician.
He was given the nickname "Conk", and was frequently introduced with such
lines as "Mr Max Geldray will now play his new record in a reclining
position", followed by "That was Mr Max Geldray imitating music".
On occasion, he also had a speaking part, in which he never felt entirely at
ease, not least because the others would ad lib with abandon. After he had
stumbled his way through his lines the audience would be amiably assured
that Mr Geldray was "the world's worst actor".
However, unlike Milligan, Secombe and Sellers, who encountered
incomprehension when they took the show to New York, Geldray enjoyed a
successful solo tour of Australia; when he stopped off in California on his
way home, he was so impressed by the warm West Coast lifestyle that he
started thinking about emigration.
The son of a soap salesman, he was born Max Leon van Gelder in Amsterdam on
February 12 1916. He was taken with jazz after hearing Louis Armstrong on
the wireless, and at 16 formed, with six others of his age, a harmonica
band, though an agent told him it sounded both too amateurish and too Dutch.
However, continuing to model his playing on Armstrong, he and three other
harmonica players eventually joined a vaudeville show led by the English
comedian Tom Moss, who took them on a tour of Britain as "The Hollander
The others lost heart at finding little work on their return to the
Netherlands, but Gelder set off alone for Brussels, where he landed a job as
the featured jazz harmonica player with a house band at a restaurant.
He then worked at the Ostend Casino, which brought him into contact with
such musicians as the American tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, the
British band leader Ambrose and the French leader Ray Ventura, whose
orchestra he joined.
This brought him to Paris, where he went to the Hot Club de France, and the
guitarist Django Reinhardt soon invited him to join in a jam session. Their
friendship continued until early 1940 when Gelder, who was Jewish, fled the
Once in Britain he joined the Princess Irene regiment of the Royal Dutch
Army, and started to perform on the wireless. In 1942 he played at Princess
Elizabeth's 16th birthday party at Windsor Castle.
After landing in Normandy in August 1944, he was near a bomb which went off,
and astonished doctors by retaining his hearing, until they discovered that
it was highly developed because he was a musician. The following May,
Geldray (as he was now calling himself) finally managed to reach Amsterdam,
where he found that his parents and a younger sister had been killed.
After another spell with Ventura, Geldray returned to England where he found
plenty of work during the golden age of wireless, playing on Workers'
Playtime, Melody Magazine and Forces' All-Star Bill as well as with the
Goons; he also appeared on Dick Lester's television series, Fred and Son of
He toured with Frank Sinatra in Europe, and enjoyed such fame that Hohner,
the German harmonica-maker, provided him with miniature instruments to give
away as publicity.
By the time he returned from his first American visit, the marriage he had
contracted in London during the war had ended in divorce; he made four trips
as an entertainer on the Queen Elizabeth, then bought a one-way ticket to
Geldray got his first job as a harmonica player in a Los Angeles bar, moved
to Reno, Nevada, which he did not like, and then came back to Los Angeles,
where he met Susan Deforio, a divorced mother of three, whom he married and
settled down with in the San Fernando Valley.
After they had had two sons, one of whom died, he took regular work, first
as a clothing salesman then as a sales supervisor for the Christian Science
Monitor in Boston. But he eventually returned to the Californian sun at Palm
He was playing in a local bar when a jazz-loving doctor asked him if he
would like to put on a show at his stroke centre. This eventually led
Geldray to become a voluntary worker and then a member of the staff at the
Betty Ford Centre for addicts at Rancho Mirage.
There was nothing better designed to cheer up a jaded British pop star or
film actor than a staff member with a familiar name which could summon up
memories of the insincere tones of Major Dennis Bloodnok or Little Jim's
cry, "He's fallen in the water".
He also started a series of concerts, "Jazz without Booze", in which he was
accompanied by a group of prominent local musicians, including Stan Getz,
which raised money for the clinic.
Geldray enjoyed reproducing Goons' dialogue with his son Phil, a rock
musician, though this left Americans who overheard them bemused. He kept in
touch with "the boys", as he called them, and regularly met Michael Bentine,
who would winter at Palm Springs. Peter Sellers was planning a part for him
in a Pink Panther film, though it was never made because Sellers died.
Geldray, who died on October 2, was especially pleased that Sir George
Martin had recently brought out a CD of his work, originally released in the
1950s, under the title Goon with the Wind.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
|GELDRAY; Max Leon Van Gelder-2/10/2004 by "Peter_McCrae" <>|